WUJS Arad Bites The Dust

WUJS Arad, established in 1968 to provide a one year pluralistic program in Israel for recent college grads, is now history.

At a meeting this past Sunday night, the Hadassah WUJS Arad Company voted to permanently close the program in Arad later this summer.

Young Judaea is currently in the process of re-engineering the program to open in Jerusalem during September.

WUJS Arad has enjoyed a long history and a sterling reputation. The Ulpan program was continually rated one of the tops in Israel. The feeling of community among the participants and alumni has been first rate. 8000+ participants have passed through the sleepy dessert town of Arad; the best guess is 25% have made Israel their home. WUJS Arad is not only responsible for many marriages, but also boasts several 2nd generation participants.

Originally established under the auspices of the World Union of Jewish Students as an International Graduate Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, the idea was to provide a one year Israel experience for the mostly British graduates in attendance. In its 2nd year, WUJS Arad became an independent educational program.

As with many long-term programs, over time WUJS Arad experienced its fair share of ups and downs. But the registration fall-off as a result of the 2nd Intifada eventually forced the WUJS executive to re-examine its core support and structure. During the fall of 2004 while still maintaining some independence, from a practical point, the Arad program became part of Young Judaea Israel. By the fall of 2006, following several years of negotiations between Hadassah, JAFI and WUJS, WUJS Arad was formally absorbed into YJ-I.

What has transpired since?

For one, the Jewish Agency (in the midst of a serious cash crunch) put the wheels in motion this past October to close two underused absorption centers – Arad and Lod. Additionally, WUJS has not been able to achieve the necessary registration numbers for the program to be viable.

Why?

Some of this is subjective. Does a program in the periphery have the same drawing power as previously. Has MASA funding allowed the growth of more programs than the market is currently ready to absorb (I have heard this voiced by more than one gap year program administrator). Has Hadassah / Young Judaea properly targeted their marketing approach?

Or, quite frankly, did the new owners blow it. Like a Chinese menu, probably a selection from each.

Will Jerusalem be the answer? And will Hadassah allow sufficient time and resources to tell. In a letter to those enrolled for the September machzor, YJ-I in explaining the change, quoted Harry Truman:

“Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” OK, this is necessary spin. But does YJ-I have the right leaders to guide WUJS back on track? Do they really want to, or is this their way of gradually backing out. Will the Hadassah-YJI organization make-up the cash shortfall caused by JAFI’s actions. Nancy Falchuk, Hadassah’s president, told me the decision to go forward is for only one year and then it will be re-evaluated.

I guess time will tell; and I genuinely hope YJ-I is successful with this change. But like many others who maintain fond memories of the program and friendships made, for me this is a sad closing chapter for such a wonderful set of programs.

On a related note, I understand OTZMA has also been subject to the current round of JAFI cutbacks and may not survive into 2009.

updated July 3: Hadassah and Young Judaea Israel are determined to paint JAFI as the ‘bad guy’ here. True, JAFI is closing the absorption center, but not before the end of the year.

What made Hadassah – Young Judaea pull the plug in Arad early? Why when they have known this for about nine months did they wait until the end of June to make decisions that were effective almost immediately, tell the Fall participants, and fire the Arad staff?

Here is what JAFI had to say this afternoon,

Last year the Jewish Agency announced that it was closing its absorption centers in Lod and Arad at the end of 2008;

  • Lod-because of the down-scaling of aliyah from Ethiopia
  • Arad-the location was not attractive to olim making the running of the facility financially unfeasible because of the small numbers staying there.

Nevertheless the Jewish Agency was committed to keeping the Arad facility open until the end of 2008 in order to provide for the WUJS Arad program.

WUJS Arad for its own reasons decided not to continue through 2008.

Seems to me, Hadassah – Young Judaea has failed in marketing the program.


for a related post, see The Hadassah PR Team Spin.

Please forward this post to any WUJS alumni you may know.

The logo image above is the original and long-time WUJS Arad logo; it has unfortunately lost some clarity over the years.

The author of this post is an alumn of the WUJS program and a past Director of the American Friends of the WUJS Institute. Aware of these changes for most of the past few weeks, I was asked by Young Judaea Israel to hold off on this post until the fall program participants and Arad staff were informed of the decision.

Like many program alumni, especially those residing in Israel, and despite promises to the contrary, I am distressed at the breakdown of the WUJS community, built up over decades and allowed to completely disintegrate under Young Judaea management. This alone causes me to have little belief in promises now being made.

updated July 1: the sad news of WUJS closing has made the front page of today’s Jerusalem Post. Unfortunately, the article has been removed from the Internet by the paper. I understand Hadassah put some major pressure on the Managing Editor.

updated July 27: you can read some insightful comments from former WUJS Arad’s Director, Aubrey Isaacs, here; and all of our posts on the closing in Arad here.